I love this film. I know, that’s a lousy starter for a film review. But really, I adore it.
Day for night, is ultimately a homage to the struggles of film-making- physical, emotional, material- that goes behind the scenes. In short, it’s a film about making a film. Vanguard director of the French New Wave cinema, Francois Truffaut’s one of the best, the movie has been hailed as sweet and sour reflection on the process of movie-making, which is not devoid of the same complexities that human life itself features- love, sex, the woman problem, and death. But it also shows the dizzying array of travails that a film has to go through before being born. Actors’ personal tragedies, time shortage, budget cuts, and unforeseen death- Day for Night accomplishes in reflecting upon most of them. And delightfully, for us, all of it happens with a comic tone, a rather intelligent one as could be expected from a Master film-maker.
Film’s central character is the director, Ferrand, played by Truffaut himself. As a réalisateur Ferrand faces the troubles every director has to go through- managing troubled artists, and infinite trivialities that plague the journey of movie-making. But if you thought Truffaut would stop there, without shedding some light on his own personal journey, you’d be wrong. There are repeated scenes of the director’s existential crises, questions that go beyond the set and enter the realm of ideology and nostalgia. Childhood promises seep into his dreams, and daytime dilemmas only ensure their perpetuity.
But the story revolves around the love and loss of the hero of the film, Alphonse, put into life by Jean-Pierre Léaud, the protagonist-actor of many of Truffaut’s works, including the famous Antoine Doinel series. Léaud plays the forever love-lorn, quirky, somewhat man-child Alphonse with an ease that is unparallel. The character as played by him reminds us of Woody Allen’s quirky protagonists, which are mostly acted by the American film-guru himself. Alphonse’s search for love, and his awe about the nature of womanhood becomes established with several repetitive questions that he asks to get different answers. But perhaps the best one he gets is from the heroine herself.
The film touches on the woman problem on other levels too. The crisis of the aging female actress, and the hysteria that surrounds their tragedy is shown in what I would say one of the funniest, yet tragic, sequences in the history of cinema. Severine (Valentina Cortese) is a one-time famous heroine, who is nearing the end of her career. The hysteric sequence where she keeps forgetting her lines, the scene where she comes to compare her fellow male colleague’s role as a lover, against hers as a mother- demonstrates a hypocrisy that lies in showbiz, or perhaps deep in the labyrinth of social values.
But despite all the personal tragedies going on, the film never lets us forget its objective- showing the world of cinema, in the making. From props and sets to elaborately designed mise en scène, from anecdotes on famous film-figures to the countless ‘couper’s (cuts) and shots from the shooting spot- the film gives us a peek into the mysterious process behind cinema. The film thus easily becomes a personal favorite of any movie buff, as it lets on much about the mastery of the medium.
On the way of showing the process and behind-the-scene incidents, Truffaut doesn’t forget to throw the ultimate challenge to the hypocritical aspect of the medium, one that is voiced by an ‘outsider’ (and somewhat neurotic) character who is exasperated by the farce that the medium often represents.
Despite all the dilemmas, the film approaches an ending. The crew barely makes it, making sacrifices that take chunks of their own lives. Someone dies, but death is never known to be a major inhibition to anything. The show comes to an end. The little boy in the director who once stole movie posters, runs home; happy, carefree, may be he’s satisfied with his deed, once again.
This post has been included in the blogathon- France on Film! This is my first participation in such an event and I totally love it 🙂 Thanks to the host of the event, Serendipitous Anachronisms for taking this great initiative. Long live cinema!